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R e s e a r c h

A R T I C l e

Epigraphical Study of Ancient and Medieval Villages


in the Tamil Country
Noboru Karashima*,1

Abstract: Inscriptions on stones or copper-plates, which occur in substantial numbers,


are the basic source-material for the ancient and medieval history of India, as much of
India lacks history books compiled in these periods. For pre-modern village studies as
well, therefore, we have to depend on inscriptions.
In this paper I explain how the remains of inscriptions can be used for village studies
by referring to my examination of Tamil inscriptions of the Chola period (10th to 13th
centuries). Through their examination I have attempted to clarify the changes that
occurred in the landholding system in the middle Chola period, and the great social
change and upheaval that these represented.
I also demonstrate the importance of statistical analysis of inscriptional data, of
techniques that I introduced into this field of study. Many interesting and important
features of ancient and medieval villages can be known from inscriptions, including
information on village types, cultivation practices, taxes on villages, and the people
who lived in the villages.
Keywords: Pre-modern village studies, Inscriptions, South Indian history, The Chola
state, Landholdings, Statistical analysis of inscriptions.

Inscriptions as Historical Source Material


My paper is an exception at this colloquium, in that it discusses the study of ancient
and medieval villages by examining contemporary inscriptions, unlike other papers,
which study modern and contemporary villages by examining government statistical
records or data from researchers field surveys. It is well known that India lacks
history books compiled in the ancient and medieval periods on Hindu dynasties,
other than a few like Rjataragi. In compensation, however, there remain a large
number of inscriptions from the remote past that enable us to reconstruct the history
*Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo.
1An earlier version of this paper was delivered as a Special Lecture at Studying Village Economies in India: A
Colloquium on Methodology, Chalsa, December 2008.

Table 1Distribution of inscriptions, by language


Language
Sanskrit
Other Aryan languages
Tamil (Dravidian)
Kannada (Dravidian)
Telugu (Dravidian)
Others (Persian, Arabic, etc.)
Total

Number
7,800
5,000
28,000
11,000
5,000
3,000
59,800

Source: From Garbini (1993) and Subbarayalu (2001).

of ancient and medieval Hindu dynasties, although there is a difference between


north India and south India in respect of the number of inscriptions that have
survived from the past.
First, let us look at the distribution of the inscriptions by language and period. The
distribution by language is as follows:
Table 1 shows that the Dravidian-language inscriptions remaining in the south far
surpass, in number, the Aryan-language inscriptions which survive largely in the
north, including the northern part of the Deccan.2 Inscriptions are mostly engraved
on the stone walls of Hindu temples, and the fact that a far larger number of ancient
and medieval Hindu temples remain in the south than in the north explains this
difference. To some extent, the same reason may explain the difference in the
distribution of inscriptions between the three Dravidian languages.
The chronological distribution of inscriptions, if we take up Tamil inscriptions for
example, is as follows.
Table 2 shows that we have a large number of Tamil inscriptions from the 10th
century to the 16th century, within which fall the periods of the Chola, Pandya and
Table 2Distribution of inscriptions, by period
Period
3rd century BCE to 5th century CE
6th century to 9th century
10th century to 13th century
14th century to 16th century
17th century to 19th century
Total
Source: From Garbini (1993) and Subbarayalu (2001).
2A

good number of Sanskrit inscriptions also remain in south India.

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Number
100
900
19,000
6,000
2,000
28,000

Vijayanagara states. More or less the same tendency will be found in the chronological
distribution of inscriptions in other languages too.

Village Studies Based on Inscriptions


Inscriptions usually refer to the reigning king with his regnal year or the year of
an era, such as the Saka era, on the basis of which we can reconstruct the political
history of the period to a certain extent. Moreover, as the contents of inscriptions,
especially of Tamil inscriptions, are various, with many different matters being
recorded, we can also learn about the socio-economic conditions of the period from
them. Inscriptions engraved on temple walls mostly record grants of money, cows,
land, state revenue as tax, etc., made to that temple for conducting daily worship,
festivals and repairs therein. Matters are often recorded in full length; if we consider,
for example, land grants, the inscriptions often go into such detail as to inform us
how the granter acquired the land, who should cultivate the land, what should be
cultivated, what sort of taxes the temple should pay or be exempted from, etc., in
addition to the extent and location of the land as defined by four boundaries.
Inscriptions also record other matters, such as government orders to the locality;
decisions made by local assemblies such as an r (assembly of an ordinary village
called by that name), sabh (that of a Brahmana village), nagaram (that of a
town) and nu (that of a local unit called by that name); the solidarity pact of a
particular community; revolt resolutions by some oppressed social groups; disputes
among people and villages; and political compacts between local chiefs. Therefore,
with regard to the Tamil country, we can also undertake village studies based on
inscriptions for the period from the 10th to the 16th centuries as I have done.3
In past studies, efforts have been made also to elucidate the conditions of ancient
and medieval villages by examining Tamil inscriptions. The best example of this is
Nilakanta Sastris Studies in Cola History and Administration,4 in which he clarified
the functioning of the sabh formed by Brahmana landholders in Brahmana village
called brahmadya or chaturvedimangalam. The sabh managed village affairs,
including cultivation, through various committees (vriyam) formed under it,
including those for garden land (tam), tanks (ri), wet fields (kaani), taxation
(pachavram) and accounts (kaakku). The method of electing members to the
sabh and vriyam was also clarified by Sastri. About the same time as Sastri
conducted these studies, A. Appadorai studied the agrarian society of medieval
south India by examining inscriptions in Tamil and other languages, in his Economic
Conditions in Southern India (10001500 AD).5 Landholdings in villages were also
discussed in this book.
3For

the character and function of temple inscriptions, see Karashima (1996a).


(1932).
5Appadorai (1936).
4Sastri

Ancient and Medieval Villages in Tamil Nadu|3

Although these studies are excellent pioneer works, they have their own problems.
One problem concerns their nationalistic bias, related to the national movement of the
1930s. Sastri and others tried to prove the existence of democratic local government
in ancient and medieval India, and gave much emphasis to the democratic way of
electing sabh members in Brahmana villages. Other aspects of village study were
left out without being examined.
Another problem concerns the way the studies treat inscriptions. In most cases,
Appadorai picked up only one or two inscriptions to support his argument although
there were many relevant inscriptions to be analysed, including ones that suggested
contrary arguments. Moreover, Appadorai depended, for his argument, not on the
original inscriptional texts, but in many instances, on the brief gist of the inscriptions
published in English in the Annual Report on Epigraphy. In the case of general works
such as his, especially in a pioneer work that is not based on more specific work
conducted previously, this deficiency may be permitted to some extent. Unfortunately,
however, this attitude is still prevalent in recent works. That is why I introduced the
statistical method in the study of inscriptions -- dealing with a related corpus of
inscriptions in place of single inscriptions, in order to avoid the arbitrariness that is
conspicuous in previous studies.

Village Communities Revealed by


Thanjavur and Other Inscriptions
Now, let us look at village studies based on inscriptions taking up some of my past studies
as examples. First, I introduce my study of village community based on Thanjavur
inscriptions, leaving an explanation of the statistical method to a later section. There
are three long and continuous inscriptions in the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur
(SII, ii, 4, 5 and 92), which record revenue grants from more than 56 villages in south
India and Sri Lanka. The inscriptions start with a preamble that runs as follows:
Hail! Prosperity! There was engraved on stone, as orally settled, the revenue in paddy,
which has to be measured by the measure (marakkl) called (after) Adavallan, which
is equal to a rjaksari measure, and the gold and money, which has to be paid
from the land paying taxes; and there was also engraved on stone the land free from
taxes, including the village-site, the sacred temples, the ponds, the channels passing
through the villages, the quarter for Paraiyas, the quarter for Kammalas, and the burning ground, in the villages, which the lord Sri Rajarajadeva had given in the Chola
country (maalam6), and in other countries as divine gifts for the expenses required
by the supreme lord of the sacred stone-temple, called Sri Rajarajesvara, which the
lord Sri Rajarajadeva has caused to be built at Tanjavur.

After this edict, full details are enumerated for 40 villages in Chola-mandalam and
abridged records for 16 villages in other maalams, including Sri Lanka. For each
6Maalam,

meaning a country, was the biggest administrative division of the Chola kingdom.

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of the 40 Chola-mandalam villages, therefore, we are able to know the total extent
of the village, the extent of taxable and tax-free land, the amount of tax imposed
on the taxable land, the categories of tax-free land, and the categories of residential
quarters, temples, etc. From these we also learn about the existence of threshing
grounds and granaries as tax-free land, and of residential quarters for the Ilavar too,
though they are not mentioned in the preamble. From the amount of tax on paddy
and the extent of taxable land we can calculate the rate of taxation, which was
more or less 100 kalam of paddy per vli of land though a similar inscription in
Gangaikondacholapuram (SII, iv, 524) gives us a somewhat different ratio, ranging
from 16 to 92 kalam per vli.7 Chart 18 in the appendix shows the result of analysis of
these matters for the 40 Chola-mandalam villages of the Thanjavur inscription and
some 7 selected villages of the Gangaikondacholapuram inscription.
In respect of residential quarters for various communities, another type of inscription
which record royal grants of villages to Brahmanas for establishing a brahmadya
reveals the inclusion of a variety of village-servant groups in villages. The land in
the village to be assigned to Brahmanas and others, including village-servant groups
and temples, is usually expressed in terms of pagu (share) in these inscriptions, and
most of the Brahmanas are given one pagu, while village-servant(s) and temples
are given somewhat different shares. In the Tandantottam plate inscription of the
Pallava king, Nandivarman II (SII, ii, 99: 789 CE), the assignments are as follows.
A Chidambaram inscription of Vira Pandya (ARE 1959-309: 13th century) reveals the
following distribution.
From these inscriptions we are able to know about the existence and composition of
village-servant groups in Brahmana villages. More or less similar groups, except for
vda/stra teachers, seem to have existed in non-Brahmana villages too.9

Two Different Types of Landholdings


in Two Different Types of Villages
Next, I give an example of my study of landholdings.10 My intention here is to show
that there was a change from the practice of common landholding as prevailed in the
7The

difference comes from the existence of different kinds of land, including dry land, in the villages in the
Gangaikondacholapuram inscriptions, while the land in the villages in the Thanjavur inscriptions seems to have
been mostly wet land (see Karashima 1984, pp. 94105).
8Karashima (1984), pp. 445. n this chart, one village in the Gangaikondacholapuram inscription, the rate of
revenue assessment in which was 92 kalam, is not included. This is because the information on other variables
is insufficient because of damage to the inscription.
9An analysis of Allur inscriptions, given later in this paper, reveals the existence of dancers, a musician, a
village accountant and an astrologer in that non-Brahmana village. For this village servant issue, see also
Mizushima, The Mirasi System and Local Society and Karashima (2009), pp. 7690.
10There are several papers of mine which discuss this issue, but see especially, Karashima (1984), pp. 135 and
Karashima (2009), Introduction.

Ancient and Medieval Villages in Tamil Nadu|5

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THRESHING GROUND
GRANARY
OTHERS

TEMPLE
CREMATION GROUND

WATER TANK
BUND
WATER CHANNEL

VILLAGE NUMBER
EXTENT OF VILLAGE
EXTENT OF TAX FREE LAND
RATE OF REVENUE ASSESSMENT
RESIDENTIAL RNATTAM
AREA
RIRUKKAI
KUDIYIRUKKAI
PARAICHCHERI
KAMMAA
CHCHRI
ACHCHRI
OTHERS

OO

OO

OO

OO

O
O

9
7
0.1
99

O
O

O
O

1 2
134 111
9 4
100 100

RO

TI

O
O
O

OO

O
O

OO

OO

OO

OO

OO O

O
O

21
81
5
8

O
O
O

O O

O O
O

OO

O
O

28
50
2
99

OO

OO O
O
O
OO O

O
OO
OO OO
O

22 23 24
25 26 27
46 42 19
5 16 13
3 2 0.2 0.2 1 1
77 100 100 100 100 99

O
OO
OO
OO

OO
OO OO OO
O
O
O

OO

OO OO

OO O

10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
6
24 34 7
6 52 39 31 6 ?
0.2 0.3 5 0.4 0.2 2
2 1 ? ?
95 100 10 95 99 98 100 99 ? 100

Chart 1Some results from village-level analysis of inscriptions

Ancient and Medieval Villages in Tamil Nadu|7

O
O
O

OO
O

O
O
O

OO

29
30
31
24
7 153
0.5
0.5 3
100
100
99

OO

OO
O
O

O
O

34 35 36 37 38 39
26
3
3 7 11 53
0.7 0.2
0.1 3 3
9.8 8.5 10 9.7 99 100

OO O
OO O

32 33
11 21
0.4 4
98 5.3

OO
O

OO
O

OO

40
28
8
8.2

6
4

22
11
13

16
19

6
4
10

OO

O
O
OO

O
O

7
3
5

5
5

208 212 T
47 67
4 7
29 ?
6
1

O OO OO O
O
O
OO OO OO OO

OO OO OO OO
O
O O

T 101 134 197 200 202

? 54 53 24 37

0.7 1 5 2 4
51
48 16 16 28

23

9
3

19
7

GI

6
4
10

21
24

29
14
18

6
4

GT

29
10
3
20
7

Notes:O It indicates the existence of the specified item in the village in singular.

OO It indicates the existence of the specified item in the village in plural.

It indicates the existence of the cremation ground of the Paraiyas separately from that of the Vellalas in the village.

G I Gangaikondacholapuram inscription

TI The row marked Village Number refers, in the Thanjavur Inscription (TI) to the village number as given in the inscription, and in the case of the Gangaikondacholapuram
Inscription (GI), to the line number in the inscription. Damage to the latter inscription is such to not allow us to assign a number to the village.

THRESHING GROUND
GRANARY
OTHERS

TEMPLE
CREMATION GROUND

WATER TANK
BUND
WATER CHANNEL

VILLAGE NUMBER
EXTENT OF VILLAGE
EXTENT OF TAX FREE LAND
RATE OF REVENUE ASSESSMENT
RESIDENTIAL RNATTAM
AREA
RIRUKKAI
KUDIYIRUKKAI
PARAICHCHERI
KAMMAA
CHCHRI
ACHCHRI
OTHERS

TI

Table 3Shares of land assigned, Tandantottam plate inscription of Pallava king


Nandivarman II
Recipient category

Share (pagu)

1 Vishnu temple
1 Siva temple
1 Reciter (vsippn) of bhratam
1 Drummer (taaikoi)
1 Water supplier (tar auvr) to a public hall
1 Physician (vaidyan)
4 Accountants (madhyastha)
3 Water distributors (vyttalai)

1
2
1
1
1
2
3
3

Source: SII, ii, 99.

early Chola period (roughly, the 10th and 11th centuries) to individual landholding
in the later Chola period (roughly, the 12th and 13th centuries). For that, we shall
first examine the existence of two different types of villages in which different types
of landholding were seen in the early Chola period.
From the early-period inscriptions of Allur and Tiruchchendurai, both close to
Tiruchirappalli on the southern bank of the Kaveri river, we are able to ascertain the
common landholdings that prevailed in r-type villages, in contrast to the individual
landholdings seen in brahmadya villages.11 r-type villages were traditional villages
that had existed from earlier periods, and were inhabited by agricultural and herding
castes such as the Vellalas and Manradis. Brahmadya villages, quite different from
these, were created in and after the Pallava period by royal grants of villages to
Table 4Shares of land assigned, Chidambaram inscription of Vira Pandya
Recipient category
Temple
Vda-teacher vritti
Stra-teacher vritti
Physician (vaidyar)
Physician (ambaan)
Accountant (r-kaakku)
Drummer (uvaccan)
Carpenter (taccan)
Goldsmith (tan)
Washerman (ragolli)
Barber (nvitan)
Watchman (pdukppn)
Public servant (veiyn)

Share (pagu)
1
3
1
2

Source: ARE 1959-309.


11A

detailed study of landholdings in these two villages is given in Karashima (1984), pp. 313.

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Brahmanas who had been invited from the north. As stated earlier, villagers in rtype villages formed an assembly called r, while Brahmanas in brahmadya formed
the assembly called sabh.
In Allur, which was an r-type village, there remain nine inscriptions recording the
donation and sale of land to a temple, and the remission of taxes on the temples
land. Of the 11 land transactions, 7 were made by rr (members of the r assembly),
2 by talaivchch (regulators of water supply at the main sluice), 1 by a kyilr
(temple priest?), and the remaining 1 by the temple itself. This shows that in Allur
the relationship between land and individuals was very weak, with most of the
land being held by the village community, a group of people or an institution. In
Tiruchendurai temple there are 21 inscriptions recording similar transactions
concerning land in Isanamangalam, a brahmadya village. Out of the 21 pieces of
land in Isanamangalam, 3 were transacted by the sabh (village assembly), 4 by a
paruai (group of sabh members), 1 by a kiavar (landholder in a brahmadya), 2
by an individual and his followers (uir), and 13 by individual Brahmanas. This
shows that, in contrast to the situation in Allur, there was a stronger relationship
between land and individuals in Isanamangalam.
In both villages most of the lands transferred are described in the inscriptions in
terms of their four boundaries, such as water channels, roads, some other land, etc.
If we examine closely the nature of the land appearing as a boundary, we are able
to determine in some cases the owner of the land. In Allur, out of the 9 pieces of
boundary land, 6 seem to have been owned by dancers, a musician, an accountant of
the r and an astrologer. These persons, however, seem to have come into possession
of these lands by receiving them in the form of emoluments given to them as village
servants who performed or served specific functions/professions.12 In contrast to
this, out of the 21 boundary lands of Isanamangalam, 18 pieces seem to have been
owned by persons individually, and this confirms the difference between the two
villages concerning landholding.
Another important finding of this comparative study was that in Allur the landholders,
who made up the r, were themselves cultivators of the land held by them.13 In
contrast, the landholders in Isanamangalam, who were Brahmanas, obviously did
not cultivate the land by themselves; instead, they either rented it to others or
engaged cultivators for wages. Therefore the villagers in brahmadya-type villages
were stratified into at least two distinctive strata, landholders and cultivators, while
the villagers in r-type villages were basically not stratified, though the land held by
astrologers, dancers, etc., in Allur may have been rented out.
12The kyilr (temple priest) mentioned above may also be included in this category. See Karashima (2009),
Chapter 3.
13There is clear evidence of this. In an Allur inscription (SII, viii, 692) there appears the phrase, the r itself
should cultivate the land.

Ancient and Medieval Villages in Tamil Nadu|9

Importance of Statistical Study of Inscriptions


Although landholding practices in these two villages were quite different and
contrastive in character, namely, common landholding by cultivating landholders
in the r-type village and individual holdings by landholders separated from
cultivators in the brahmadya village, since this was a case study, it does not allow
us to generalize the findings. However, some other studies, including two statistical
studies conducted later, warrant our doing so to a certain extent. The following table
shows the results of a statistical study made by Subbarayalu of 260 land sales recorded
in the published Chola inscriptions.14 He examined the chronological distribution of
the people who sold or granted land by dividing the Chola period into four subperiods, and the transactors into seven categories.
A remarkable trend revealed by this table is the decrease, with the passage of time,
in the Brahmana assemblies and individuals transacting land (except for Period III),
and, in their place, the striking increase in non-Brahmana individuals who transacted
land. We shall discuss this point later, but the important thing to note here is the
contrast between Brahmana individuals (27.8%) and non-Brahmana individuals
(1.5%), and also between non-Brahmana assemblies (12%) and non-Brahmana
individuals (1.5%) in Period I, which seems to indicate that non-Brahmanas, who
lived in r-type villages, did not possess land individually in this period. Though not
stated earlier, in some of the brahmadya villages the land was held by the sabh
in common and not individually. Even in brahmadya villages where most of the
land was held individually, a part of the land was held in common, and there were
many instances of such common land being disposed of by the sabh as charity.
This accounts for the high percentage of transactions by Brahmana assemblies. At
any rate, this analysis endorses as well as allows us to generalize the findings of the
comparative study given above. Herein lies the importance of statistical study of
inscriptions.15

Individual Landholdings in the Later Chola Period


Next, I shall briefly examine the late-Chola period inscriptions to point to changes in
the landholding system. On the wall of the Tiruvanaikka temple in Jambukesvaram,
close to Tiruchirappalli, many inscriptions have survived from the time of Rajaraja
III and Rajendra III in the 13th century, which record the sale/donation of land to
this islet temple.16 The lands were scattered across several villages not far from the

14Another

statistical study is the one on donation of temple land made by myself, and given on pages 13 and
14 in Karashima (1984).
15Another example of the merit of the statistical study of inscriptions is its application to the study of revenue
terms in inscriptions. See Karashima (1984), pp. 6994; Karashima (1992), pp. 183204.
16For a study of these inscriptions, see Karashima (1984), pp. 1531; Karashima (2009), Introduction.

10|Review of Agrarian Studies

Kaveri river on its northern bank, and were sold or donated by people who had ki
right17 to the village land.
Four inscriptions record four such sales of dry land at Isanaikkurai village to the
Tiruvanaikka temple, one by an individual (uaiy) and his brother, two by two
separate individuals (uaiy/araiya), and one by the r of the village. Though
some of the land in this village was owned by the r, other lands were held and
transacted by individuals whose names are given in the inscriptions along with their
titles, such as uaiy (literally, possessor) and araiya (literally, king); in contrast,
the transactions recorded in the early-period inscriptions were made by the r and
have no reference to individual names.
Five inscriptions record the sale of five pieces of land in Rajaraja-kurrangudi village.
These five pieces of land, which constituted the whole village, were sold by 39 persons
whose names were known; the records also reveal that all these pieces of land were
once owned by an uaiy title-holder and his younger brother, from whom the
39 individuals had purchased the land they sold later. One inscription records the
sale of Sembiyan-kurrur village by an individual who was an uaiy, but it is also
known that this village was once owned by four kiava title-holders18 and their
three brothers. Another inscription records the sale of Sembiyan-nallur village by an
individual who held the title of uaiy/araya. This seller also appears in another
inscription as a seller of three vli of land in Tattanallur village, and in yet another
inscription as a donor of seven-and-odd vli of land in two pieces in Tandangurai
village. He had inherited all these lands from one of his ancestors, who in turn is
stated to have purchased the land from people who had obtained it at a government
auction (peruvilai).19
The inscriptions clearly show that landholding practices changed drastically between
the 10th century and the 13th century. In the 13th-century villages examined above,
which were all of the r type, the land was held individually by persons who were
described mostly as uaiy, and, in some cases, had grand titles such as araiya or
nv (he who rules the nu). The records also clearly show that frequent land
sales took place between individuals living in r-type villages, as did government
auctions of land. Though the villages examined above are restricted to a small area
of the lower Kaveri valley, if we examine the inscriptions of the 12th and 13th
centuries, we can readily see that a similar situation prevailed in many localities
in the Tamil country under Chola rule. The figure of 37 per cent for sales by nonBrahmana individuals in Period IV in Table 5 explains the situation well. Individual
landholdings, which had been seen mostly in brahmadya villages in the early
period, became prevalent in r-type villages too, in the late period.
17Ki

in Tamil means hereditary right to land, profession, office, etc. In the inscriptions, however, it usually
means the right to landholding, unless otherwise specified.
18Kiava meant possessor, as did uaiy.
19For government auction of land, see Karashima (2009), pp. 6870.

Ancient and Medieval Villages in Tamil Nadu|11

Table 5Distribution of people who sold or granted land, Chola period, by sub-periods and
categories of transactors
Period
I
II
III
IV

875985
861070
10711178
11791279

Br-As Br-Ind Non-Br-As


54.1
37.5
48.1
25.9

27.8
10.4
11.5
3.7

12.0
29.2
17.3
11.1

Non-Br-Ind
1.5
4.2
7.7
37

Mr-As Temple
1.5
8.3
7.7
11.1

8.3
3.8
3.7

Others
3.0
2.2
3.8
7.4

Note: Br-As: Brahmana assembly/sabh; Br-Ind: Brahmana individuals; Non-Br-As: non-Brahmana assembly/
r; Non-Br-Ind: non-Brahmana individuals; Mr-As: merchant assembly.
Source: Karashima (1984), p. 14. Subbarayalus more detailed analysis by dividing sellers from purchasers is
found in Rajagopal (2001), pp. 4152.

What brought about this change? Answering this question at length is outside the
scope of this paper, so all I can say here is that the change seems to have been caused
by the frequent grants of land to Brahmanas and state officials by the kings of the
middle Chola period. For more details on this issue, please see the Introduction and
Chapter 2 in Karashima (2009).

Village, nadu and the Formation of jatis


We shall now proceed to examine the relation between the village and the locality
(nu), which includes a number of villages. Royal orders to a locality were usually
addressed to nr (representatives of a nu), to kiavar of brahmadyas (leading
landholders of brahmadyas), to rgailr (representatives of r-type villages)
and to nagaragailr (representatives of towns), from which we can understand
the importance of the locality called nu in state administration. Nu was the
basic areal (supra-village-level) unit where agrarian production and reproduction
were carried out in ancient and medieval Tamil Nadu,20 hence it had importance in
administration. There are various inscriptions which attest to its importance. Here, I
quote a Pandyan inscription as an example.
An Agattiyampalli inscription (SII, 17, 549: Tj, 1299 CE) records a land grant to a
temple and its tax remission made by navar (same as nr) of Kunrur-nadu
for the health of the king. Taxes consisting of kaamai and kuimai, including nelkaamai, ku-kaamai, kuimai, mr-pikval, yavargam, nuvari and rvari,
were to be borne by the navar, who seem to have tried to show their fidelity to the
new Pandyan ruler21 by this charitable deed.

20Rajagopal

(2001), pp. 878.


demise of the Chola dynasty occurred in 1279, and its central and southern parts came under the rule
of the Pandyas.

21The

12|Review of Agrarian Studies

Nobody can deny the importance of nu in the agrarian society of the ancient
and medieval periods, but I do not accept the understanding of nu as composing
a segment of the so-called segmentary state, which was proclaimed by Burton
Stein.22 Stein considers nu to have continually constituted a segment from the
Pallava period to the Vijayanagara period without change, but it actually changed
its character around the 13th century.23 I am against Steins segmentary state theory
itself and have criticised it elsewhere in more detail.24
Lastly, let me explain the study of the issue of jti based on inscriptions. Of course the
area of a jti group exceeds a village, and in this connection, I refer to an inscription
which defines the area of the Palli people who frequently appear in the 12th and
13th century inscriptions in Tiruchirapalli, South and North Arcot, and Chingleput
districts. An Aduturai inscription (ARE 1913-35: Tp, 1315? CE) records a resolution
made by the Palli people in their assembly as follows (in an abridged form):
The pannar (also called pai-navar) from the nu and nagaram of all maalams
met at the garden called Periyanan-k in a large assembly and decided to collect one
paam (a coin) per bow held by members, etc., for worship in the local temple. The
decision was made to revive an old arrangement made by their ancestors and recorded
in an inscription of Vikramachola (1122 CE). According to that inscription a large assembly of the pai-navar, including all the Pallis living within the area bounded by
the Pachchai hills in the west, the tank Viranarayana-pereri in the east, the Pennai river
in the north, and the Kaveri river in the south, had decided to contribute 50 ksu and
one kuui of rice from each family to the temple at Iraiyanpunchai Kurangadu[turai]
on the happy occasion of the reconsecration of images recovered from Dorasamudram,
the Hoysala capital, where they had been taken during a Hoysala invasion. At that time
the king also permitted them to carry their banner with the words pannr tampirn
(the god of pannr) on festival processions.

The Palli people described here composed the bowmen (archery) regiment of the
Chola army, and this regiment seems to have recovered the images by attacking the
Hoysala capital under the command of Vikramachola. The area of their habitation
as defined in this inscription covered a hilly and dry area extending roughly 100
kilometres from north to south and 80 kilometres from east to west, in Tiruchirapalli
and South Arcot districts. During the 13th century many of the ex-hill tribes
seem to have descended to the plains and became agriculturists, acquiring land.
We have many more inscriptions recording the activities of some of these ex-hill
tribes, including Pallis, Surudimans and Malaiyamans, who increased their strength
during the 12th and 13th centuries. Some members of their families grew into local

22Stein

(1980), pp. 26485.


(2009), p. 23; Karashima (1996b).
24Karashima (2002), pp. 104.
23Karashima

Ancient and Medieval Villages in Tamil Nadu|13

chieftains, such as the Kadavarayas in South Arcot district and the Sambuvarayas in
Chingleput district.
Without going into a detailed discussion of the issue here, it may also be noted that
there are many inscriptions recording the activities of supra-local assemblies called
chitrami-periyanu of agriculturists, valagai (right hand) and iagai (left hand)
of lower jti people composed of artisans and others, ainuvar of merchants, etc.,
and revealing the names of their composing groups.25 For village studies, such pieces
of information on a locality like nu, which functioned as the areal production
unit, and on jtis, which increased their number during the 13th and 14th centuries,
are indispensable. Tamil inscriptions, which afford such information, await more
intensive study.

References
Appadorai, A. (1936), Economic Conditions in Southern India (10001500 A.D.), 2 vols.,
University of Madras, Madras.
Garbini, Ricardo (1993), Software Development in Epigraphy: Some Preliminary Remarks,
Journal of the Epigraphical Society of India, 19, pp. 6379.
Karashima, Noboru (1984), South Indian History and Society: Studies from Inscriptions AD
8501800, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, later reprinted in Karashima (2001).
Karashima, Noboru (1992), Towards a New Formation: South Indian Society under
Vijayanagar Rule, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, later reprinted with an additional
chapter in Karashima (2001).
Karashima, Noboru (1996a), South Indian Temple Inscriptions: A New Approach to Their
Study, South Asia (Armidale), NS, 191, pp. 112.
Karashima, Noboru (1996b), Nattavars in Tamil Nadu during the Pandya and Vijayanagar
Period, Journal of the Epigraphical Society of India, 22, pp. 2127.
Karashima, Noboru (2001), History and Society in South India: The Cholas to Vijayanagar
(comprising South Indian History and Society and Towards a New Fromation), Oxford
University Press, New Delhi.
Karashima, Noboru (2002), A Concordance of Nayakas: The Vijayanagar Inscriptions in
South India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Karashima, Noboru (2009), Ancient to Medieval: South Indian Society in Transition, Oxford
University Press, New Delhi.
Mizushima, Tsukasa (1996), The Mirasi System and Local Society in Pre-colonial South
India, in P. Robb, K. Sugihara and H. Yanagisawa (eds.), Local Agrarian Societies in Colonial
India: Japanese Perspectives, Curzon, pp. 77145.
Rajagopal, S. (ed.) (2001), Kaveri: Studies in Epigraphy, Archaeology and History (Professor
Y. Subbarayalu Felicitation Volume), Panpattu Veliyiittakam, Chennai.

25For

these supra-local organizations, see Chapters 6 and 10 in Karashima (2009).

14|Review of Agrarian Studies

Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta (1932), Studies in Cola History and Administration, University of


Madras, Madras.
Stein, Burton (1980), Peasant State and Society in Medieval South India, Oxford University
Press, New Delhi.
Subbarayalu, Y. (2001), Inscriptions as Sources for History, in Francois Grimal (ed.), Les
Sources et le Temps: A Colloquium, Pondicherry: Institut Franais de Pondichery/Ecole
Franaise dExtrme-Orient, pp. 22941.

Abbreviations
Districts
Tj
Tp

Thanjavur
Tiruchirappalli

Epigraphical Publications
ARE
SII

Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy (Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi,


1887-)
South Indian Inscriptions (Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, 1890-)

Ancient and Medieval Villages in Tamil Nadu|15